Review: 'Stranger On The Run' a Haunting Western

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday July 27, 2021

Anne Baxter: "Who are you?"
Henry Fonda: "A man who came to save your cow."

Who knew that a TV movie from 1967 would prove to be such a potent and haunting addition to the western genre? One need only take a look at the talent involved to realize how this came about with "Stranger on the Run." Directed by Don Siegel ("Madigan," "The Beguiled," "Dirty Harry"), the teleplay was written by Dean Riesner ("Play Misty for Me") with a story by Reginald Rose ("12 Angry Men"). And the leads were Henry Fonda and Anne Baxter — two major movie stars doing a TV film in the '60s, a rare thing at the time — although the movie did premiere in cinemas in some countries.

Cast against type, Fonda plays a drunk vagabond named Ben who makes his entrance much in the same manner as Lee Marvin did in his daughter Jane's classic comedy, "Cat Ballou"—passed out and dumped onto the ground.

The scraggly-faced Ben is in search of a woman named Alma, who no one in the company town he's arrived in seems to want to talk about. Ben remarks, "You've got more law than you've got town," noticing all the deputies, chief among them a mumbly-mustached Vince McKay (Michael Parks). Alma soon shows up dead and Ben is blamed. The town posse go in hot pursuit, and an apprehensive widow (Baxter) decides to shelter him.

Siegel has always had a great knack for pacing and momentum, and he moves this one along in a brisk manner. Besides the simple good storytelling and excellent performances the film has some still-valid things to say about corporation-run towns and, in particular, about the dangers of men who are given a little bit of power.

Fonda had played against his heroic type in the past, most notably and notoriously in "Once Upon a Time in the West." Here, his character is a reluctant hero. Ben doesn't really want to investigate what happened to Alma. And once he's a target, he doesn't really want to fight. And he's not really all that excited about romancing the leading lady. He does all of the above mostly because he is cajoled or forced to. Fonda plays this terrifically.

Baxter ("All About Eve") is equally wonderful. Actually, she is better than that. She takes every one of her scenes and imbues them with a history and backstory that makes us long for a film that has her ballsy and fierce character at its center.

And Park is just fascinating to watch. Weird, wild and wacky with his WTF-speech, his is a treat of a performance.

Whisperin' Bill Anderson sings the infectious theme song.

The Blu-ray transfer looks amazing. It's hard to believe this was a TV movie from 1967! Kino utilized a new HD Master from a 2K Scan of the Interpositive, and the results are exquisite. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio is also impressive.

Gary Gerani's Audio Commentary is a fun listen.

"Strangers on the Run" is a delightfully surprising western treat.

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New HD Master from a 2K Scan of the Interpositive
  • NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Screenwriter
  • Gary Gerani
  • Broadcast Trailer (HD)
  • Newly Commissioned Art by Vince Evans

    "Stranger on the Run" is available on Blu-ray on July 27, 2021.

    Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.